Book Review: Lord Peter Views the Body by Dorthy L. Sayers (Two Stars)

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Book Review: Lord Peter Views the Body (Lord Peter Wimsey #4) by Dorothy L. Sayers

Two Stars.

“Built noticin’–improved with practice.”

This anthology of early Wimsey shorts reminds me why I hate anthologies. Authors (or, more likely, publishers) sweep up all the bits and pieces of a successful author or authors and foist it on the public as great literature. The resulting collection is often–as in this case–mediocre at best.

“Nobody minds coarseness, but one must draw the line at cruelty.”

Especially avoid the novelette: “The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention.” Dreadful. “The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Meleager’s Will” will enthrall crossword puzzle enthusiasts, without leaving the rest of us clueless.

“Bunter likes me to know my place.”

Sayers wrote for different readers. She assumes a level of French and Latin literacy rare among Americans today. Wonder how contemporary (1920s) English did.

“It is … dangerous to have a theory.”

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Book Review: A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George (Four Stars)

Book Review: A Great Deliverance (Inspector Lynley #1) by Elizabeth George

Four Stars

“A vestige of time dead, being devoured by time to come.”

Lord Peter Wimsey rides again, sort of. An updated lord-as-sleuth tale with a grittier approach than Dorothy Sayers original from the 1920s. This series, from the 1980s, reflects more modern times, but still the quintessential England of literature and music as much as manors and manners. Not at all a Holmesian tale; much more personal and pyshological. (One hopes the BBC didn’t rape these as they did the Cadfael mysteries.)

“The police were antagonists to be thwarted rather than allies to be helped.”

Deep, complex characters. Everyone has a skeleton, if not a demon, in his or her closet. This book takes the reader deep inside the heads of just about everyone as New Scotland Yard investigates a horrific crime in Yorkshire. (I visited the Yorkshire dales in the late 80s, George’s good descriptions fail to express the bleakness and the beauty. Words fail.) This book is not for the timid or weak stomached. That more than one character vomits is appropriate and realistic. (You’ve been warned.)

“One can’t run forever.” “I can.”

The accents and vocabulary are a bit over-the-top, especially of the Americans, who I’m sure are portrayed just as most British viewed us then. George occasionally slips: “Bob’s your uncle” is not an expression Americans would use.

“The whole situation was an irritating, howling, political maelstrom of thwarted ambition, error and revenge. He was sick of it.”

Americans forget–more likely never knew–that England in the 1980s (when this book was written) was more socially divided that the United States today. Margaret Thatcher’s election set off a cultural war the likes of which we are just now seeing here. English were (I lived in Oxfordshire in the 1980s) much more class conscious. The attitudes expressed by Sergeant Havers were typical of commoners then. English gender attitudes are integral to the plot as well.

“Mothers have a way of taking things a bit personally. Haven’t you noticed?”

The text suffers jarring shifts in point of view, which perhaps were caused or exacerbated by formatting issues. Apparently this edition is an optical scan of the original text; numerous errors have slipped in. (“Shell stand that,” when “She’ll stand that” was obviously meant.) Do all English call speakers amplifiers? As in, “Enormous amplifiers sat in all four corners, creating at the center a vortex of sound.” (I know what council houses, boots and dust bins are; not what Americans think.)

“… before Lot finds me.”

Great writing. Great characterizations. Intense drama and conflict. But also a story of courage and compassion. Quite the climax, and yet plenty gaps are left in our knowledge of Havers and Lynley to engage the reader in his further cases. Looking forward to more.

“Death closes all.”

Book Review: The Devil’s Novice by Ellis Peters (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Devil’s Novice (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #8) by Ellis Peters

Four Stars

“There’s many a young man has got his hearts wish, only to curse the day he wished for it.”

Upon my fourth reading, I raise my rating one star because this story compares so well with other historical fiction. In addition to the murder mystery, this tale brings to the reader an understanding of a historical setting which borders on the mythic, an introduction to a medieval craft (in this case, making charcoal), reflections on life then and now, a love story, and the fun of a tale well told.

“He’s innocent enough, God knows, to believe that other men are as honest as he.”

Readers seeking a story grounded closer to fact than the average epic fantasy, which usually loses itself in horses that run forever, swords that never dull, clerics who call down lightning bolts and enough nihilism for a lifetime, Edith Pargeter’s series on the life and times of this former Crusader and now monastic should be welcome. That’s why I’m on my fourth reading of this series.

“Despair is a deadly sin, but worse it is mortal folly.”

Book Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch (Five Stars)

Book Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Five Stars

“If you go in with fear, fear is what you find.”

Totally awesome. The best science fiction I’ve read this year. Called a science fiction thriller and a romance, it goes beyond many genre expectations. Explores how choices relate to identity. We are who we chose to be.

“I have total control, but only to the extent that I have control over myself.”

Well-conceived, well-developed, well-written.

“I’m not allowed to think I’m crazy. I’m only allowed to solve this problem.”

The title, of course, is a pun. The story only tangentially relates to Continue reading

Book Review: Music Box Girl by R. A. Dawson (Three Stars)

Book Review: Music Box Girl by K. A. Stewart

Three Stars

(Warning: There be spoilers here.)

“We gravitate toward disaster.”

Phantom of the Opera starring R. Daneel Olivaw. Too obscure? How ‘bout C3PO?

Great concept, borrowing liberally from Phantom and Pygmalion, Frankenstein, and Aladdin. Was wavering between four and five star ratings until I reached the climax. If it’d been a book (rather than an iPad), I’d have thrown it against the wall. You’ve got to be kidding. Syrupy and illogical for starters.

“Life is too short to censor oneself.”

It shouldn’t be too short to proofread one’s writing however. Parts read like a rough draft. Awkward sentence structures and confusing antecedents. Not to mention the ending. Stewart can do better.

“Age brings perspective.”

Don’t see that happening to the main human characters. Yes, Tony, you should have told them, but if you’d had a brain there wouldn’t have been a story. Still, this has great potential as a movie. The Marvel crowd would love it, silly ending and all.

“You never know when there won’t be a ‘later.’”

A thought: aficionados of science fiction are so used to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics that we forget those are just one man’s construct. Stewart reminds us that robots–even self-aware robots–know nothing of empathy or compassion. They focus on effectiveness and efficiency. If human beings happen to get in the way, they get crushed.

“Sometimes you just couldn’t wait for Spring.”

Book Review: One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters Four Stars

Book Review: One Corpse Too Many (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #2) by Ellis Peters

Four Stars

(Third Reading: 2016)

“No one can do more than choose his own road according to his conscience, and bear the consequences of his choice.”

The more I read science fiction, the more I appreciate well-written historical fiction. The Cadfael mysteries are historical fiction at its best.

“In all my life and all my fighting I’ve fought for only one king.”

One Corpse introduces us to the historical setting and culture more than A Morbid Taste for Bones. It also introduces Hugh Berengar and other characters who will add depth and complications to Brother Cadfael’s retirement from the world and its troubles. Somehow, the troubles keep finding him. That’s half the fun.

“All the things of the wild have their proper uses, only misuse makes them evil.”

A word about religion: it is difficult to portray what people, especially monastics, felt or thought a thousand years ago. Their inner life was animated by a different world view and set of assumptions from moderns, even modern Christians. While having no apparent Christian perspective, Edith Pargeter knew Wales and medieval history. The reader benefits from her other time, almost-other-world perspective.

“God will require an accounting.”

Book Review: Black Dog by Stephen Booth (Four Stars)

Book Review: Black Dog (Ben Cooper & Diane Fry #1) by Stephen Booth

Four Stars out of Five

A pleasantly twisted police procedural set in the Peak District of England. If you have any inkling you might read this book, I suggest you to read none of the reviews or summaries readily available—including this one—because they will diminish your reading pleasure.

If you’re still with me, I said the preceding because I did read some of those reviews and they spoiled the story for me. Since you won’t be reading the book or you wouldn’t be reading this (you are following my advice, aren’t you?), I’ll tell you why. Booth writes with the classic nineteenth-century omniscient narrator style, which take the reader deep into the thoughts and feelings of each character. He does it well. More important, we find ourselves overhearing the thoughts of several characters about each other. And, of course, they’re wrong. Oh, Booth doesn’t tell us; he shows us.

I don’t normally read police procedurals, but I enjoyed the storytelling of this one. Perhaps you will, too, but you won’t know I said that because you’ve already stopped reading this review, didn’t you?

Book Review: Rules of Murder by Julianna Deering (Three Stars)

Book Review: Rules of Murder by Julianna Deering

Three Stars out of Five

A pleasant period piece of an English murder mystery set in the 1930s. Deering, a pen name for Deanna Julie Dodson, turns many classic mystery conventions on their head as her idle, rich protagonist is drawn into investigating the mysterious deaths of several people near and dear and a few almost strangers. In the process he finds romance and a spiritual anchor in the American niece of his step-father.

Mysteries are not my cup of tea, so I can’t be expected to understand all Deering did to craft this mystery, but I can appreciate her intricate plot and attempts at setting the scene eighty years ago.

That said, the tone was slightly off; it sounds like England as experienced by PBS mini-series. For example, the colloquialisms sound forced. English, especially English men, seldom refer to their car as a 1923 Rolls Royce. Model, presumably Sliver Ghost, rather than year of manufacture is the typical referent. Too many modified adverbs: perfectly, unselfconsciously, and unsuitably.

Nice cover art.

A worthy effort.

Book Review: The Discovery by Dan Walsh (5 Stars)

The Discovery by Dan Walsh

5 out of 5 stars

Read in February 2014

Outstanding. A World War Two era mystery and romance framed by a contemporary tale of discovering and reacting to the old manuscript. Well-conceived, well-researched and well-written. Good contrast between the peace and plenty in modern America with the fear and struggle of America in the 1940s.

I can’t say enough about how the manuscript transports the reader into that time and place. I’m old enough to know it “feels” right. The military, political, cultural and religious elements are appropriate for that era. (It speaks to the role of women in that day; minority issues are not addressed.)

The Discovery will inevitably be compared to The Notebook and similar tales; it’s at least as good. Hope to see the movie some day (after it’s made 😉 ).

Excellent read. (This review is my first five star rating this year.)